With thanks to Lois, Gail and Nancy

This story contains a spoiler for Sentinel Sanctuary.

 

 

This story is set during the story Sentinel Sanctuary.

 

Be Sure Your Sins--

Who am I now?

Part One

 

 

One year ago

 

David Lash picked up his bag and threw it over his shoulder. In his pocket was the official email confirming his appointment to the Cadet Force of the GDP. Soon he would be wearing the coveted black uniform with the white flashes. He was only one of twenty that had passed the entrance exam.  He had a career and possible entry to Rainier University--something that a charity case like him could never have dreamed of attaining. Higher education was for people with money, but now it was opened up to him.

 

He cut through the walkway to the train station when he heard a cough, and turned. The club swung, and he went down hard. He tried to lift his head to call out, when a face came into his rapidly fading vision. 

 

The voice had a singsong lilt to it. "Who am I today, Davy?" 

 

Then there was nothing.

 

 

The Present

 

The Sentinel Sanctuary was high in the mountains outside of Cascade. It was a special place put aside for sentinels and guides to heal; whether it was of the mind or the body--a chance for them to regroup and reaffirm their bond.

 

Now was a time of healing for Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg, and Simon Banks was prepared to do whatever he needed to in order to help them. The pair had been through a rough time. Jimís head injury had made him into the perfect Sentinel--coolly detached, a perfectionist who had backed up his commands with punishment when his Guide had failed to come up to his standards.  Simon knew that he had only seen the tip of the iceberg, and that had been enough to turn his stomach.

 

But now Jim was back, and trying to make up for what he had done.

 

The captain mentally reviewed the chapters that he had read from Sentinel 101, concerning the Blessed Protector mode, and the Mother Henning mode--a term which always made Simon smile. It was just the mental image of Jim Ellison, all six-foot-two-inch buff ex-military Black Ops Ranger and Vice Cop, mothering anyone. But in the smaller, younger Guide, he seemed to have no reservation for doing just that.

 

Simon turned his attention to the Guide, one Blair Sandburg, formerly Pet Barnes, the human pet and Guide of one psychotic Alex Barnes. He had survived that, only to fall into the hands of a sadistic GDP guard who had repeatedly raped and subjected him to humiliations. Even now, Simon was sure Jim was not aware of everything--any one of which should have made Blair a mental basket case. But the kid showed character, and seemed to be holding together. 

 

Blair was dressed in his ordinary multicolored clothing, looking like a riot in a paint factory. He was sharing the sofa with his Sentinel.  If he was honest, Simon still sometimes felt uncomfortable with the touchy-feely aspect of the Sentinel and Guide relationship. But like this, it looked totally natural.  

 

Jim was lying flat on the sofa. His Guide was giving his shoulders and back a massage as he chatted to him. For a moment, Simon thought his ears had popped, as he could hear nothing. Then he realized that Blair was talking sentinel soft, knowing that Jim would catch every word he said. 

 

Instantly, Jim relaxed under the hands of his Guide. This was the one person he trusted with his life and his soul, the words were a soothing balm to his nerves.  For a while, his eyes struggled against the weight of sleep, then his eyes closed. 

 

Blair yawned and, with a shy look at Simon, hesitated. The captain turned his attention to the fishing lure he was working on, and when he glanced back, Blair was curled up resting against Jim's back, as he joined his Sentinel in sleep.

 

Simon kept preparing his tackle for the next day's fishing.  Time passed in a relaxed atmosphere. It was then he realized that Jim was waking up from the cat nap he had been enjoying. He stretched, pushing up against the weight lying across his back, feeling the warmth of the smaller body where it touched him, the flutter of Blair's chest as he breathed and then the steady thump of his heart, as all his senses were engaged on his Guide. The Sentinel eased back down, careful not to dislodge Blair.

 

"Hi, Jim. Have a good sleep?" Simon smiled, as he laid the lure down.

 

"Blair certainly took all the cricks out of my back."  

 

"Looks like he has really talented hands. I wonder where he learned that," Simon put in, then added quickly, "Hell, Jim, I didnít mean anything by that." The moment he had spoken, he had seen the Sentinel's face darken and the lips pull back in a snarl. Then he snapped out of it.

 

Jim rubbed his face thoughtfully. "I know you didnít, Simon. Just put it down to a bad day."

 

"Sure. We all need to rest up." Simon didn't take offense. He understood: a Sentinel protecting his Guide--no, more like a man protecting his friend. He couldn't fault him.  "What did you hear that I didnít?" He had a good idea that it was more than just his words that had riled the detective. "Somethingís got you on edge."

 

"Gross. He told one of the training officers as we left that Blair was nothing but a hooker, that he willingly went with Wilson and his crew, and that he only squealed on that bastard Wilson when he realized that I would find out. He did it to save himself."

 

"The guy's a slime ball, Jim. The people who matter know the truth about Sandburg, and that's all that matters in the end. The kid's good people." He paused, then added, "Just donít tell him I said that, okay? I have a reputation to uphold."

 

Jim smiled. "Sure, Simon, but I hate to tell you that youíre already busted on that score."  His face hardened slightly. "I want Gross, and one day he is going to pay for this."  Jim left it hanging in the air. His face softened, as did his voice.  "Heís starting to wake. Can you hold him while I get sat up?"

 

"Er, Jim, is he..."

 

"His barriers are up now.  If you could just hold him, while I turn over."

 

Simon hesitated, his hand hovering over the younger man, not sure what to get hold of. He finally eased him up.

 

The Sentinel rolled onto his back, and then reached out for his Guide, who had made a small distressed whimpering noise when Simon had touched him. It stopped as soon as Jim took hold of his Guide again, and he tugged himself closer. 

 

Blairís eyes opened at half-mast, and his hand patted Jimís chest. "Good Sentinel. Nice Sentinel." He yawned again, and then went back to sleep as he snuggled into the warm body that held him.

 

It was only when he was sure Sandburg was asleep again that Simon asked, "Jim, how does it feel to have someone in your head all the time?"  For a moment he didnít think the Sentinel would answer.

 

"It feels like home, Simon. When we link, I can feel his emotions. He calms me and comforts me. Heís my life, Simon." The Sentinel lowered his head to rest against the curly head that laid against his shoulder, his face pressed against the side of the Sentinel's throat, his breath a warm breeze over Jimís skin.

 

Blairís eyes opened and he yawned, snuggling closer, then went back to sleep. He was exhausted, but he knew he felt safe now, in the arms of his Sentinel.

 

Jim settled down to spend the evening holding his Guide, for as long as the smaller man needed. Occasionally he would run a soothing hand over Blairís head and shoulder, as he opened his senses up to savor his Guide. There was no longer an edge of fear to the scent. Each small whimper or murmur was given due consideration. Jim checked to make sure that Blair was not distressed, then he was petted until he calmed again.

 

Finally Simon stretched. "Well, I'm turning in now. You need some help there?"

 

"No, I can manage.Ē

 

"No problem. He kind of reminds me of Daryl like that."

 

Jim got up, carefully shifting his Guide so that he could hook an arm under his legs and carry him to the bedroom.  While he waited, Simon pulled the two single beds together, making one big bed, not judging, knowing for a Sentinel and Guide, this was important.

 

As if trying to explain, Jim said, "I need him to be close, Simon." 

 

There was a tone in Jimís voice that Simon had never heard before, but the big captain could understand it. Jim had nearly lost Blair, and he needed to know that he was safe and warm. 

 

He stepped back as Jim laid his precious burden on the bed. Bending, he slipped off his Guide's sneakers. Then hypersensitive fingers checked out the injured ankle.  Only then did he undress Blair to his t-shirt and boxers, pulling the blankets up over him. Immediately, Blair started to toss and turn, reaching out for his Sentinel.  Jim reached down and stroked Blairís face with the back of his hand.  His Guide reached up and caught the hand, pulling it down against his chest.  Jim did not try to free himself. He sat on the edge of the bed, and gently continued to run his hand free hand over his Guide, his touch light, his face softening as Blair relaxed into a deeper sleep.

 

Simon edged to the door. "See you in the morning, Jim." He closed the door behind him.

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

It was early morning when Blair woke. Even as he had surfaced from his sleep, he had known who was holding him.  For a little while he was content just to lie there being held, to hear the steady beat of Jimís heart under his head, a warm arm around his waist, and a hand pressed under his t-shirt against his stomach. 

 

When he moved slightly, his Sentinel made a low rumbling, and his thumb swiped across his skin, rubbing gently. The words half muttered, "Safe Blair. Guide safe," and Jimís face buried against him.

 

After all that he had been through, he should have been scared of this level of intimacy, of being held by a much larger and, to be honest, much stronger man.  Jim was powerfully built. He kept himself in shape, and lifted weights regularly, but Blair never felt threatened by him, never feared his strength. Only that once, when Jim had lost his memory, did that strength get turned against him. But in his heart of hearts he had known that Jim would never have hurt him.

 

He hesitantly moved his hand over Jimís chest and shoulder, a small smile touching his lips as with a sigh his Sentinel curled around him.

 

Blair couldn't sleep; he lay watching the night sky. His stomach rumbled. He was hungry. Jimís hand rubbed again, as he had felt the spasm under his hand. Jim had always encouraged him to eat when he needed it. This Sentinel considered that he was well under weight and would hover over him, making sure that he eat every last crumb.

 

The problem was going to be getting out of the bed. Jim would be at his most protective: a strange place, and hostile, with the GDP just down the road. He was going to have his radar on full.

 

Very carefully, Blair eased out of the grip that held him. For a moment Jim stirred, his head lifting slightly, then he realized that there was no threat and rested back down again. Blair stroked his face with the back of his hand, and felt his Sentinel ease back into a deeper sleep.

 

It was a full moon, and he was able to see his way out of the room. He limped towards the door. The Sentinel was used to him walking about the loft so long as he didnít try to leave the house. It was unlikely that Jim would wake from his sleep. He needed to rest just as much as Blair did.

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

Joe Green pulled up outside of the house, and collected the basket of provisions for the newcomers to the Sanctuary House.  He had forgotten to leave the fresh milk and dairy products.

 

He checked the white noise generator pinned to his belt.  When he unlocked the door to the kitchen, his anger flared. The guide was leaning over the open fridge. There was an open bottle of orange juice on the side, and the guide was pulling out some melon slices.

 

How dare he steal the food! Green stepped forward, and then swung his hand and delivered a sharp blow to the back of the guide's head that sent him forward. His head hit the upper part of the fridge, and a kick to the back of his leg brought him down, crashing to the floor of the kitchen. "Show your respect, Guide."

 

"What the hell are you doing?" It was the gruff, angry voice of Simon Banks. He had gotten up to get a drink of water, and had witnessed the assault on Blair. In his hand he held his service automatic.  He lowered it when he saw the GDP uniform.

 

~~~

 

Blair didnít move from his kneeling position on the floor as an angry Simon Banks stormed into the kitchen. "You get your hands off him, before I arrest you for assault." 

 

"Heís a guide, Civ.  They donít count." The man's voice showed the contempt he felt for guides in general.

 

"Heís *my* Guide."  One pissed off Sentinel stood there. He had heard Simon, and was now standing barefoot, dressed only in his boxers in the doorway.

 

Joe Green looked at him, puzzled. There was no way a sentinel should have been able to hear him, not with the white noise generator switched on.

 

Even as he thought it, the Sentinel crossed quickly to him. A hand like a vice caught his throat, and two strides threw him back against the wall. He was lifted up off the floor, and thrown back against it again.

 

"You do not touch *my Guide*." It was reinforced with a hard thud on each word.

 

"He was eating. Itís not allowed. The guide eats only when a sentinel..." The man's voice was fading into a hoarse croak.

 

"Cut the crap. My Guide eats when and what he wants. Understand me?" As if to make his point, he slid Green further up the wall and snarled, "Do we have an understanding?" Each word was punctuated with a hard bang against the wall.


"Jim! Put him down, man. Please," Blair begged.

 

The Sentinelís head tipped to one side. "He hasnít answered me yet."  He gave his captive a shake that rattled all the teeth in his head.  "I said, do we?"

 

"YES. YES."

 

"Yes, what?"

 

"Yes, Sentinel."

 

"Yes, who?"

 

"Yes, Sentinel Prime, sir."

 

Jim nodded, and then let him go. The man nearly fell forward.

 

The Sentinel turned and went back to his Guide, scooping him up and carrying him back to the bedroom. Gently laying him down and running his hands over his Guide's head, he searched for any damage to the smaller man.

 

"Sorry, I was hungry."

 

"Nothing to be sorry about, Blair." Jim had moved down his body and had started to re-check the ankle, frowning. "Keep off that foot, Chief." 

 

With that he strode out, returning with melon, juice and a packet of frozen peas. The last item rather puzzled Blair until his Sentinel elevated his ankle and used them as a cold compress.  Then sitting down, Jim gently tugged his Guide up, positioning the pillows behind his Guide's back, and handed him the juice and melon. Only when he had eaten his fill did Jim coax Blair to lie down. A hand ruffled the curls.  "Try and sleep, Chief."

 

~~~

 

The Sentinel was lightly petting his Guide, as his mind began to focus on Captain Alan Gross.

 

Gross was the GDP Officer that had spoken to him about guide care while he had been in the services. He had a cold-blooded view of them as nothing but a breathing tool for the sentinel's use. Avoid emotional contact with the guide--that had been his creed. He looked down at the peacefully resting guide. He could never be just a tool to him.

 

The guilt of what he had done to Blair while out of his head came back like a dull ache. He had fed him scraps, beaten him when he had moved too slowly.

 

He lifted a hand, his touch feather-light, and smoothed the hair back from Blair's closed eyes. Then he ran his hand over Blair's closed eyelids and the curve of his face, his eyesight seeing the discoloration of the blow that HE had inflicted on the younger man.

 

Jim got up quickly, hurried into the bathroom and threw up, sick to his stomach. The sentinel memory, which for a cop was a blessing, was now a curse. He could remember the blow to Blairís face, the smell of the blood, as his teeth had cut the inside of his mouth, the heat of the bruising, the....

 

"Jim.  Come on, man.  Listen to my voice, and follow me back. There you go, big guy."

 

Jim gave a shuddering breath, and swayed, held in place by his Guide. Blair was stronger than people gave him credit for. There was strength in that wiry frame.

 

He manhandled his disorientated Sentinel onto the edge of the bed. "Talk to me, Jim. That was the mother of all zone outs." He began to rub Jim's arms to get some warmth back into him. Although the days were balmy, the nights could get very cold.

 

Jim was about to push Blair away, he didnít need this now, and then with a shudder he realized that he had been pushing Blair away for the last few days since the head injury. "We... I - I need to talk."

 

Blair just nodded, and pushed his Sentinel down onto the bed.  "We need to bond, and you need to sleep. If I'm right, just nod."

 

Jim nodded.

 

"Youíre feeling guilty about what happen when you hit your head. Nod if I'm right."

 

Another nod.

 

"You want to know if we're cool on this."

 

Another nod.

 

"We're cool, man. You're my Sentinel, you bonehead. You're stubborn, anal retentive and a real throwback, but you're *MINE*." That one word, said stone cold sober after the joking insults, made Jim's head come up. There had been a growl to the words that he had only heard once before, when the other Blair had appeared. The blue eyes flashed with the heat of the bond.

 

Blair slid into the bed, then arranged his comforter and pillow, and snuggled down, getting comfortable. He tugged Jim into place, the Sentinel's head resting against Blairís chest, an arm around his waist.

 

A contented almost-purr came from the Sentinel. He was where he belonged, with his Guide.

 

Jim could hear Blair talking in a soft whisper. The soft, light caress on his shoulders and head lulled him to sleep.  His last conscious act was to hug his Guide tighter and burrow his head into the T-shirt-covered chest.

 

But in his heart of hearts, he still felt the heavy pull of guilt. His actions needed to be atoned for, no matter what Blair said.

 

0-0-0-0-0

   

The days at the Sanctuary had been peaceful, after one hectic night when Sentinel and Guide had rescued a young girl from her kidnappers.

 

Their mornings had developed into a regular pattern, with Jim waking first. Holding his Guide close, he would check his sensory net, then press against Blairís sleeping mind. Entrance was easy, with his barriers low. It was like a flower opening up under his gentle touch.

 

Only when he was reassured, did he wake the younger man up. Like this, Blair didnít panic, but instinctively reached for his Sentinel. Eyes still closed, he would try to pull himself into Jimís arms, his face nuzzling against the broad chest, as his Sentinel's arms wrapped around him. Then would the blue eyes open, misted with sleep, and look trustingly up into the lighter blue ones of his Sentinel.

 

Jim would then take some Sentinel time, time to hold and reassure his Guide, to allow the connection to blossom between them, to feel the smaller body relax against him. Then would he get up, reach down and pull his Guide to his feet, and help him to the bathroom.

 

Simon had learned to keep out of the way. First thing in the morning, Jim was unpredictable until he had his Guide washed, brushed, dressed and fed.  But the big captain never took it personally. He understood that the very fact a village of GDP were within spitting distance was enough to send him into Blessed Protector mode.

 

Only then did the Sentinel and his captain head off to the River, leaving Blair to follow at his own pace. He had found a small platform overlooking the valley, and it was there that he meditated, reassured by the heavy rails that he would not fall.

 

~~~

 

Blair made his way slowly along the path, a hand on the rails, keeping as much weight off his ankle as possible. He bit his lip to stop from crying out in pain. One murmur, and Jim would be on him like a shot.

 

He was halfway down the twisting walk when he heard a voice bark at him.

"WHAT are you doing here alone, Guide? Where is your Sentinel?"

 

Blair turned and took a step back--his worst nightmare in the flesh. For a moment all he could focus on was their uniforms, the black of the GDP. Then he saw the white flash, showing their cadet status. He swallowed hard. Two of them had red entwined with the white showing them as Sentinel GDP cadets.

 

The cadets spread out and started to circle him. He could see their curiosity, as if he were some rare breed of animal, but how did they know that he was a Guide? He was out of the overalls, and Jim had removed the tracking devices, cheerfully;  trashing them.  It was then the pieces clicked into place.

 

For a moment, Blair just stared at the speaker. Then he remembered him, and swallowed hard. The man was the same cadet who had been in the van when he had been taken to the then Sentinel Prime Hudson. The man had gotten off on inflicting pain on him--Cadet Learner, no, Lash. He tried to back away from him, but the circle began to tighten.

 

Lash was looking Blair up and down. "This is the Guide I was telling you all about. A dirty little slut that opened his legs to anyone in the facility. I was in the van when he was taken in to be trained by Sentinel Prime Hudson. He unzipped himself, and offered himself to me there and then."

 

Blair shivered. He could feel the hatred and loathing rolling off the man, but more, it was edged with an excitement.  "Thatís a lie." The words came out before Blair could even think of biting them back.

 

The look on the cadets' faces was a picture-- a Guide had dared to call a GDP officer a liar. There could only be one course of action.

 

"Now, kneel down and show your respect to your betters, Guide. Show us what you have learned. Head down and ass up, and I might just give you a dozen stripes if you show you know your place.Ē Then he smiled, his lips pulling into a cruel parody of joy. "Get your pants down around your knees. Whatís the problem, Guide? You donít have anything that you havenít hocked around the facility. Get down on your knees."

 

"David," one of the young female Cadets put in, shocked, but Blair could also feel her excitement.

 

The cadets had not completely tightened the circle. Blair knew that he could still get out of there, but he had to act now before it was too late.

 

Lash just grinned as he answered the girl. ďHudson said the punishment always worked better on skin, remember? Correction fodder like this, try and treat him like a normal guide, and we get nowhere.  This is the only thing he knows, and when I'm finished with himÖ.Ē  Lash was fingering a leash. The grin was almost predatory now, as he gloated.

 

Blair reached for the buttons of his jeans with a shaking hand, tuning out the rest of Lashís words.  He could feel them relax; the little guide, the correction fodder, was going to do as he was told. 

 

Suddenly Blair pushed by a small fair-haired girl, elbowing her in the stomach hard when she tried to grab hold of him. Then he was out of the circle. He went crashing through the trees.

 

He could hear them yelling for him to stop. The cry of "rogue Guide" rang in his ears, almost like the cry of the fox hunters. That he was being hunted now, added to his adrenaline spike.  "Jim, find me! Help me!"  he gasped.

 

With a sickening thud he remembered the Caretaker saying that white noise generators operated in the area to dampen any sounds from the camp that would disturb the sentinels in the Sanctuary.  //God. Jim had to have heard him. Please hear me.//

 

Then he needed all his breath to run. With each step, his ankle was on fire. Only his fear kept him on his feet.

 

He angled towards to the river. His Sentinel, his protector, was there. He would not let them hurt him. Jim would protect him.  His foot caught in a tree root, and he went down face first.

 

A weight landed on his back, as one of the cadets yelled, "I've got him." Then the leash went around his throat, and he was being strangled.

 

His eyesight began to grey out.  A lucky strike caught the cadet in the ribs as he leaned over him. More voices, yelling, getting closer. Blair rolled free, and gasping, managed to get to his knees, then onto this feet. The cadet was lying face down. He did not have time to see who it was. All he could do was run. His throat was on fire, and each lungful of air burned. Then he stumbled down into the water. He went right under, and broke the surface, gasping.

 

He saw Simon Banks. The man threw his rod on the bank and was running towards him. He went under the surface again, his ankle giving out, and a large hand caught the back of his jacket pulling him upright, into a strong grip.

 

Blair clung tightly to him. "Jim, where is he?" His voice was panicking.

 

"He took off into the woods. He must have heard you. You called him, didnít you?"  Then, as an afterthought, he asked, "Why didnít he find you?"

 

Blair looked back the way he had come. "Jim, donít hurt them!" he yelled, knowing that if Jim had not gone to him, that could only mean one thing. He was after the people chasing him.

 

Simon had also noticed the voices, near enough that even he could hear them, were fading away--snuffed out like candles. 

 

Jim appeared on the river bank's edge, crossing quickly to gather Blair to him, his hands running over the smaller man.

 

"Jim, the cadets?"

 

"No threat." Two words, and he continued his sensory sweep of his Guide, trying to calm his distress, as he checked this most cherished edition to his life.

 

"Jim, what did you do?"  Simon tried.

 

"Put them down.Ē Then he finally straightened up.

 

Simon was worried. Jim was a Black Ops officer. His idea of putting them down might just be borderline lethal.  "Jim, what did you do?"  Simon put a bite to the words.  "Detective Ellison..."

 

Jim eased back. "They'll be nursing a few headaches, nothing serious, but only because they didnít touch him.  Scared him, yes; touched him, no. NO one touches you, Blair, and lives." It was said with such certainty, as if it was carved in stone--hurt the Guide, and you die, or suffer a world of pain.   "What happened, Chief?"

 

"Stupid. All I had to do was kneel to them, but I couldnít. They would have taken me away for training." Blairís voice was shaking, and he flushed bright red.

 

He was pulled tight, one hand forcing his head up so that he would look Jim straight in the eyes. There was no way the Sentinel was going to let his Guide get away with not meeting his eyes.  "You have done nothing wrong, Chief, and no one is going to take you anywhere. You donít kneel to them. They donít train you.Ē  Jim added, "Now let's get you dry." He knew that something else had happened or been said, but Blair was too ashamed to say it in front of Simon. It could wait.

 

Blair protested, but Jim shrugged off his own coat and pulled it on him. Then he was picked up and carried back to the house.

 

Simon kept pace with them. Blair was shivering, and needed to get warmed up.  While the Captain put some water on to boil, Jim took his Guide into the bathroom. Setting him down, he began to strip off the sodden clothing. Each piece was dropped on the floor. Only then did he switch the shower on, and check the temperature. When he was satisfied, he helped his Guide into the spray. Blair nearly fell as his ankle and knee gave way. With a growl, he was joined in the shower by his fully-clothed Sentinel. Blair was pulled up against him. His protests were ignored. The mud had seeped through his clothes coating his skin, chilling him to the bone. Jim soaped up a sponge and began to clean his shoulders and back.  Blair hung tightly to him, flinching when his Sentinelís hands moved lower. Then he remembered just who was holding him, and he laid his head against Jimís chest. Between them, the link flared, and he could feel the protective urges of the Sentinel come forward to nurture and care for him.

 

Blair relaxed under the pampering of his Sentinel. He was in Guide bliss.  Blair closed his eyes, giving himself over to the feeling of being cherished, and protected.

 

It was with a sigh that he was helped from the shower, and supported while he was wrapped into the large warm towels and dried off. One towel was wrapped around his head the others covering him like a mummy. Then, and only then, he was scooped up and taken to their bed to bond. 

 

Simon saw them come out and stepped back at the low deep-throated growl. He turned back and put the television on as the Sentinel carried his Guide to their room.

 

The next morning, Jim was buttering toast and pushing it across to Blair, making sure his Guide ate it with the scrambled eggs. He was still much too thin for Jim's liking.

 

Jim's head tilted to one side as he heard the jeep coming up the drive. He was not surprised. He had left the GDP operator reeling from his phone call, had wanted Gross up at the Sanctuary first thing the next morning, or he was going to call Claydove personally.

 

~~~

 

Captain Gross got out of the jeep and tugged his jacket down, calming himself. He could not afford to have the Sentinel pick up on his nerves. He reached a hand up to knock, only to have the door pulled open. He was GDP, and it still unnerved him.

 

"Come in, Captain."

 

"This is a serious matter, Jimmy. Your Guide will have to undergo retraining. I have checked his file, and he never completed his original training."

 

"Gross...Alan..." The use of the first name was almost friendly, except until the tone of the voice was heard. Jim leaned forward and laid a hand on the GDP officer's shoulder, guiding him to the balcony. His grip tightened, and he felt the officer flinch and try to pull free, but the grip was like steel.  "You do not get to train my Guide. Your so-called cadets know the rules. A Guide in sanctuary is out of bounds. They would have leashed him. Now, you tell me that they're qualified to leash a Guide."

 

"No, they're not," Gross exhaled.

 

"I take it they didnít tell you that part of it. Also, they didnít tell you this was the leash they were carrying."  Jim thrust it into Gross' hand.

 

The officer thread it through his fingers.  "This is an illegal leash. There is no way they should have these things. This, of course, makes all the difference. Your guide should not have run, but..."  Gross trailed off.  "I'll talk to them tomorrow.  My apologies to you, Sentinel Prime."  Gross made it official.

 

"The apologies go to my Guide."  

 

"Sure, Jimmy. I apologize to a guide." His laughter died on his lips.  "You're serious." The look on the Sentinel's face made the comment redundant.

 

"Deadly serious, Gross.  Your  so-called cadets did this, so you apologize.  Or believe me, what I did to them is only the tip of the iceberg."

 

"It doesnít work that way, Jimmy."

 

"It does with me."

 

For the first time, Gross felt fear.  Jim Ellison was a Dark Sentinel, and he had heard how the man had taken the GDP Sentinel Prime of Cascade to pieces for trying to discipline his Guide. The look on the man's face was predatory.

 

Jim's firm grip led him into the room.  "Chief, come in here, please."

 

Blair looked out of the door to the bedroom, and seeing Gross, hurried in and started to kneel.

 

Pain shot through Gross' arm from the nerve Jim pinched.  "Do not kneel, Guide Sandburg.  Come here."

 

Blair hesitated, and then came forward, his gaze going from Gross to Jim and back again. 

 

"Guide Sandburg, on behalf of the cadets under my command, I apologize for their treatment of you. They were out of order and had no right to order your show of respect."

 

~~~

 

Simon grinned from his position in the kitchen.  The man sounded as if he was chewing glass.  It couldnít happen to a better man.

 

"I'll leave you to your sanctuary, Jimmy."

 

"Gross, it's Sentinel Prime Ellison of Cascade.  Get the title right in the future.

 

"My correction, Sentinel Prime Ellison.  Captain Banks.  Guide Sandburg..."

 

Jimís hand dropped away as Gross stalked out of the house.

 

Blair watched as the door rocked on its hinges.  "What did you do, man?  He was seriously pissed off."

 

"Nothing, Chief.  Just told him the facts of life as I see them--first and foremost, respect the Guide." He closed the distance between them.  "Now you best get off that ankle for the rest of the day."

 

Blair was still recovering from his run yesterday, and Jim had no interest in him going to the river again so soon.

 

It was Simon who came up with an idea.  He jerked a thumb over his shoulder.  "Have you seen the pool they have on the lower level?"  He gave a whistle.  "You should just see it.  Man, oh man, I see a recliner calling my name, the fish can have today off.Ē

 

Jim looked at his Guide almost critically. "Can you swim, Chief?"

 

Blair gave a small shake of his head. "No. Naomi, my mother, didnít like the water.  One of her boyfriends drowned, so she didnít let me go near it."

 

"Time you learned to swim. First lesson today, and Iíll have you swimming like a champ by the end of the sanctuary."  He slid an arm around his Guide, taking the weight from the damaged ankle as they made their way down to the lower level. 

 

The whole side of one of the walls was a window.  The sun was shining through, and it was bathed in a golden glow.

 

Simon tugged the recliner so that he was basking in the sunlight.  He lowered his book, then shielded his eyes to watch Sentinel and Guide together. Jim was floating on his front, with Blair resting on his back, reminding him of an otter with its cub.

 

The pair were in the middle of the pool.  Considering that Blair couldn't swim, it was pure trust in his Sentinel that he would be all right.  When Jim rolled over, Blair gave a yelp, but before he could panic, he was pulled to rest on Jimís chest.  Always there was the protectiveness of the Sentinel, making sure that his Guide was safe and enjoying himself. 

 

When they reached the side, Blair was given a hand to sit on the edge of the pool while Jim climbed out, the water dripping off him. Blair waved him away.  With that, the Sentinel turned his body, knifing cleanly back into the water.  He powered down the pool, burning off some of his energy, before rejoining his Guide to curl up around him in the sun, basking like his spirit guide, the Panther.

 

~~~~

 

Cadet Wendy Prichard was red-eyed. Captain Gross had dressed her down in no uncertain terms, and she was now on probation, for attempting to illegally leash a guide.  The fact that the guide was an ex-rogue didnít matter.  What did, was his sentinel was the Sentinel Prime of Cascade.  If he put in an official complaint, she would be lucky not to be thrown out of the GDP altogether.  At best, she would be given a deadend job for the rest of her career.  Already it was common knowledge, and the other cadets were giving them a wide berth.

 

She tugged at the blue band marking her as a GDP Guide in training.  Her chance of bonding with a sentinel of status had been reduced to zero. 

 

It was then she saw David Lash heading toward the admin office.  It was late, and the place was closed. //What the hell.//

 

She followed him into the building and pushed open the door of Captain Grossí office.  He was going through the files on the captain's desk.  With a satisfied sigh, he sat down, putting his feet up on the edge of the desk and began to read.

 

"Dave." 

 

His feet came off the side with a bang.  "Wendy."

 

"What are you doing?  If you're caught..." She edged closer, and saw the name in black on the spine of the folder: BLAIR JACOB SANDBURG,  NO. 45786, PROPERTY OF SENTINEL JAMES JOSEPH ELLISON.  "If they catch you, you'll be thrown out.  Come on."

 

She turned, and then her hands went to her throat, as a leash snaked around her neck, and a kick to the back of her knees brought her down.  The leash tightened.

 

"Who am I now?"

 

 

The next morning

 

The Landrover came up the drive and stopped out front of the Sanctuary House.  Inside it, Captain Gross tried to marshal his thoughts.  He had to do this.  Finally he got out of the car and walked up the stairs as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.  His fist was about to fall on the door when it was jerked open, and he found himself looking into the face of Jim Ellison. 

 

"What do you want now?"  There was a rumble of a growl behind the words.

 

"There has been an incident at the training camp."

 

"So why should it matter to me?"

 

"You're a police officer."

 

"It's not my jurisdiction."

 

"You're a Sentinel, and the locals..."


"The locals don't like you, right, Gross?"

 

"I have an email from Dr. Claydove, asking you to assist me."  He dug it out of his pocket.

 

Jim looked it up and down, and then opened the door and jerked a thumb backward.  "Come in."

 

Blair was limping though the living room with a bowl of popcorn.  When he saw Gross, he immediately went down onto his knees.  The bowl broke into pieces as he fell forward onto his hands, having to go down to brace himself, as pain knifed through his ankle.

 

Jim crossed the distance quickly and scooped him up, talking softly to his Guide.  He took him to the sofa.  Sitting, he pulled Blair across him, holding his Guide against him, so his back was to Gross, one arm supporting the other, fussing with him, tugging his head down, petting him.

 

Blair knew it was a fear response.  Gross had forced him to be leashed, and Jim wanted to keep him safe.  He raised a hand and began to lightly stroke the tight shoulders.  The muscles relaxed under his touch, the GDP captain forgotten for the moment.  Then, carefully, Blair eased back and slid around, only to have the arm circle his shoulder and pull him against Jim's side.

 

"I'm here.  Talk."

 

"Send your Guide out of here."

 

"No.  Blair stays, or we both go."

 

Gross gave a huff. "A member of the GDP, a cadet, has been found hanged in her room.  Cadets are selected for their emotional stability.  It's unthinkable that this should have happened now.  We have notified her parents, but to satisfy the local police we have to have a Police Sentinel look over the scene.  You, Jimmy, are the nearest one here, plus you're a detective in your own right.  They would believe you.  Lieutenant Bean is at the compound now."

 

Jim leaned into his Guide, a hand holding and supporting the smaller man's head.  "Okay, Chief."  Then to Gross, "We'll go, but there has to be a few ground rules."

 

"You donít have any choice, Jimmy."

 

"Oh, yes, I do.  Section 187 of the Sentinel Code."  He grinned.  "I see you know your code.  You want me to invoke that one?"

 

"No.  So what are these *rules*?"

 

"Number one: Blair doesnít have to wear the leash or the overalls.  Heís already knelt to you, so thatís enough.  He certainly won't kneel to those jumped up martinets that you have down there. Number two: No one touches Blair.  Anyone does, and we leave."

 

"No leash, and he kneels only to me and the three senior GDP Trainers."

 

"You, and one other."

 

"On one condition.  He wears the correction overalls."  The negotiation snapped back and forth.

 

"No way."  Jim growled and tipped his head slightly.  "If you're sure, Chief."  He nodded slightly, then added, "Okay, you have a deal.  The overalls, but no leash, and he kneels only to you and the Senior Training Officer."

 

"Deal, Jimmy.Ē  He pulled the overalls out of his briefcase and tossed them straight at Sandburg. 

 

Jim snapped them out of the air, before they could hit his Guide.  His anger was beginning to burn. "Chief, go to your room.  Iíll be with you in a minute." Jimís tone was reasonable, but his eyes were smoldering, the anger in them barely held back.

 

Just before Blair got to the door, Gross called out, "Whatís the matter?  He can change here.  It's not as if heís got anything thatís not been seen by other people."  The tone was calculated to give maximum insult to the guide. 

 

In two strides the Sentinel had Gross by the lapels and up against the wall. "If you donít know the answer to that, Gross, then youíre a sick imitation of a human being."  He gave him a hard shake that rattled his teeth. "Next time, Iíll take your tongue out by the roots."  Jimís lips twitched into an earthy smile--the primal Sentinel coming forward, ready to maim and kill, destroy any threat to the Guide.

 

"S-s-s-sure, J-Jim.  Sorry, Sentinel Prime Ellison."

 

Only then was Gross let down with a bang, his legs nearly collapsing under him. He was ignored, ceasing to be of importance to the Sentinel.

 

~~~

 

Jim settled Blair on the bed, and knelt down so that he was on the same level.  With a feather-light touch, he turned Blair's head to look into his eyes.  "You're sure about this, Sandburg, wearing the overalls?"

 

"Someone has died.  They need justice, their parents need peace of mind.  It needs to be done.  An hour, I can live through that."  He turned into the hand. "And then we bond."

 

"Whenever, wherever you like."  He leaned forward, his head along side of his Guide's. 

 

Finally, Jim broke the moment.  Reaching down, he removed Blairís Sneakers and then reached for his top, all the time chatting, as he helped keep his Guide focused on anything other than where they were going to go.

 

As they came out, they could hear Simon's voice. "Well, you listen to me, you jumped up little weasel.  They go, I go, and you keep your hands off the kid.  Because if any of them touch him, I will put them down, if Ellison doesnít."

 

Gross stopped and watched Blair limp across the room, his hand on Jim's shoulder, the other twisted into the back of his jacket. "We'll take your car, Simon.  Meet you at the bottom, Gross."

 

In the back seat, Jim tugged Blair down so he was lying into his lap, so he could not see the GDP cadets.  Already Blairís heart was beating faster.  "It's all right, Blair.  No one can hurt you or even touch you, without me putting them down hard.  Claimed and Marked, Guide."

 

"Claimed and Marked, Sentinel." The words said were their bonding vow, and it helped Blair find some focus.  He was not alone anymore.  He moved his hand, and felt the hard muscles of his Sentinel.  With Jim, there was no fear of the strength he had in them, because he knew they were there to protect him.  He allowed his body to relax. The Sentinel had the watch.

 

"Easy, buddy, we're here.  Remember, you only have to kneel to the Senior Training Officer, and no one else."

 

Jim lightly tugged his Guide out of the car.  Blair immediately slid into place, plastering himself against his Sentinel, a hand tightly clutching the back of his jacket, his other fluttering over the shoulder.

 

Jimís hand reached up and caught hold of the hand.  "It's okay, Chief.  Connect now."   He felt the tug, and then Blair was in his mind, but his consciousness was skittish.  Jim tried to calm him, soothing him, taking the time to center his Guide.  He felt the curly head press against his back.  "That's it, Chief.  Believe it."

 

~~~

 

"Jimmy, this is Senior Training Officer Abbot.  Terry, this is Sentinel Prime of Cascade James Ellison." 

 

Blair had gone onto his knees during the introduction, head down, and hands to the middle of his back, his shoulder pressed against Jim's hip--the perfect mannered Guide.  He bit down on his lip to prevent the cry of pain as his ankle protested the move.  He swayed slightly, but Jimís hand was there, steadying him. 

 

"On your feet, Chief."  He turned from the GDP officers, and helped Blair to his feet, a hand resting on the side of his neck.  Jim's thumb lightly stroked his jaw, settling him, and ended with a pat on his shoulder.  "Where is the body?"

 

"This way, Sentinel.  Thank you for volunteering to help us.  Lieutenant Bean is waiting at the room."

 

Lieutenant Bean was a tall man with a bit of a paunch.  He straightened up when he saw Jim.  "So you're the Sentinel cop, and this your Guide."  He deliberately leaned around to look at Blair.  The Guide instantly moved over, putting himself behind Jim.

 

Bean shook his head.  "Sorry, Sentinel.  I didnít mean to scare the little fellow.  Just hadnít seen a Guide before."

 

"I am not an dog, I am a man," Blair said levelly.  He stepped to the side of Jim and met the police officer's gaze levelly. 

 

The GDP officers were furious.  How dare a Guide talk to another while in the presence of his Sentinel and officers of the GDP?  A Guide belonged on his knees as a tool for his Sentinel, which meant he didnít talk until commanded to.

 

Bean smiled apologetically  "Sorry about that, son.  I didnít mean to insult you.  I'm just new to this thing.  Can't say that I've ever seen a Guide or a Sentinel before this."

 

Blair had dipped his barriers and gotten a fix on Bean.  The man meant it. Sentinel soft, he said, "It's okay, big guy.  He doesnít mean any harm to me.  Heís curious, thatís all.  Nothing more."

 

"Detective Ellison, Cascade PD, Major Crimes Department.  This is my Captain, Simon Banks."

 

Bean accepted their handshakes. "Iíve heard of Major Crimes, the elite of the elite.  A bit of overkill, donít you think, for a suicide?"

 

"Didnít have much choice in the matter, Lieutenant.  We are not here to step on anyoneís toes," Simon put in.

 

"Actually, any help would be gratefully received."  Bean turned to the GDP officer. "If you'll excuse us, this is police business."

 

"Of course, Lieutenant." Gross backed away.  "Sentinel Cadet Kidman will take you to the scene."

 

"No," Blair cut in, and immediately shied back.

 

"You spoke, Guide." Gross' voice held the tone that Wilson had used when things were going to get really bad. 

 

Blair went down without any conscious thought, his head touching the carpet of the office.

 

Simon caught the look on the face of Lieutenant Bean.  The man was shocked by this.  //Join the club, Lieutenant.// 

 

Jim moved around to stand between Gross and Blair.  "My Guide does not have to ask permission to speak with me."

 

Simon thought the scandalized looks of the officers would have been amusing under any other situation.

 

"Blair, on your feet now.  Guide Sandburg, stand."

 

Blair got up.  Simon didnít think it was possible for the young man to pull himself any tighter in on himself.

 

"Now, you were saying, Chief?Ē Jim didnít turn away from Gross as he asked.

 

"You are in Blessed Protector mode, Sentinel.  An unbonded GDP Sentinel would be seen as a threat."

 

"Well, Gross?"

 

The GDP captain swore the kid was right, but could he be seen supporting an unsolicited remark from a Guide who should be punished for his outspoken comment?  //Ignore the Guide, a nothing.  One day soon, I'll get my hands on that little shit.//  "Sentinel, your concerns are noted.  Cadet Hacker will take you.  Cadet Hacker, escort Sentinel Prime Ellison to the Dormitory."

 

The cadet was a young woman, late teens; she was too polite, nervously polite.  "This way, Sentinel Prime Ellison, gentlemen."  She gave Blair a look, and her nose turned up with disgust.  //Poor Sentinel, to have correction fodder as his Guide.// 

 

"Did you know the cadet who died?" Simon asked gently.

 

"Wendy.  Yes.  She was a nice girl..." she trailed off.

 

"Any idea why she should kill herself?"

 

"She was doing really well with her studies.  She was going to be put on placement at a Station next month.  That was all she could talk about."

 

"Youíre a little young to go active, arenít you?" Jim put in. 

 

Bean was content to just listen to them.  This was a society with which he had no experience, so he was going to let the others lead.  He settled back.  His gaze kept switching to the young Guide.  He noticed how the kid had moved close to his Sentinel, almost sharing the same shoes, he was that close.

 

The cadet hesitated.  "Wendy was put on probation, Sentinel, because of an incident with your Guide.  She was depressed, a bit down, but I donít think she would have killed herself over that.  She was going to appeal.  A rogue Guide's word..."  She trailed off as she realized that if she completed that particular sentence, she was going to be in serious trouble.

 

The girl's body had been moved onto the small bed.  The room was almost closet-like, but had personal touches to it, including a stuffed bear with a birthday sash, pictures of family and friend on the wall--the knick knacks of a young life--a pile of GDP textbooks, some still lying open, a laptop computer linked up for the Internet, and a scattering of disks.

 

Jim stopped in front of the door, his hand catching the Cadet. "How many people have been in here?"

 

"Well, I found the body...the training officers, maybe four people, Sentinel."

 

"Okay, you can wait outside.  Lieutenant, while we are working, donít touch Blair, no matter happens.  When his barriers are down, you could hurt him, and then I would have to hurt you."

 

The other police officer nodded.  It had been a simple statement, but he had read the truth in it.

 

Blair moved into place, his hand resting on Jim's arm.  "Do you have a pair of gloves, Lieutenant?" Jim asked. 

 

Bean dug into his pocket and handed a pair to the Sentinel. "Do I give him some as well?"

 

Seeing the nod, he handed another pair across.  "There you go, son."  He held them out so that Blair could take them, careful not to let his hand come in contact with that of the young man. 

 

Blair pulled them on, then his hand twisted into the back of Jim's jacket.  "Right, Jim.  We can do this.  Carefully scan the room." 

 

Bean moved forward to hear the soft conversation between the two men. 

 

Jim was looking down at the carpet and gave a sharp intake of breath.  There were two lines in the carpet--something was dragged across the floor. He moved into the room and then to the chair, which had been knocked down.  His fingers moved across the seat of the chair.  Heightening his touch, he could feel there were dirt marks where someone had stood.

 

He looked back at the doorway and the carpet.  "Interesting.  Thereís mud on the seat of the chair, none on the floor, so..."

 

"So she couldnít have walked across it.  Iíll check her shoes," Bean said.

 

"How tall is she, Simon?"  The captain had just come in with her personal file. 

 

"Five nine."

 

"Around your height, Chief."  He looked thoughtful. "Simon, could you get a chair like this from next door, please?"

 

"Sure."

 

Simon came back with the requested chair, and  put it down under the beam.  "Okay, Chief, up you go.  I need you to reach up as if you were going to tie something around the beam.  See the way the knot is?"

 

Jim held onto his Guide as he climbed up.  With his bad ankle, the last thing he wanted was Blair falling because it gave way.

 

Blair had stretched, but even so he couldn't do it.  Once he was down on the floor again, Lieutenant Bean put in, "So we have, one: Marks of a body being dragged across the carpet.  Two: Footprints on the seat, but not on the carpet.  Three: She couldn't have reached it.  So that shoots their idea of suicide in the foot.  This was murder, gentlemen.  This is going to make Captain Gross' day."

 

They could not put it off any longer.  With great respect, Jim pulled the sheet back from the body.

 

Blair paled as he looked at the young life so tragically cut short.  His Sentinel reached down and pulled the uniform down a little so that he could see the rope marks on her skin.  "Jim."  His hand was shaking as he touched his Sentinel's arm.

 

"Chief?"

 

Blair tugged his Sentinel around, catching his hand and placing the pads of his fingers against his own throat.  "Feel, Jim."

 

"What? I can't."

 

"Increase the dial."

 

"Wait."  A look of surprise and concern came to Jim's face as he began to detect the scar on Blairís throat.  "It's the same, Chief.  You didnít try to..." He broke off not able to put it into words.  "When you were in the facility."

 

"No, never.  That was made by a leash, not a rope.  Wilson used to put the leash around my neck when he hurt me.  Thatís the same pattern it made--the twist in the thread." He paused and then looked up at his Sentinel. "She was murdered and then hung. Jim, she was Guide, an empath."

 

Jim turned to the door as Gross entered. 

 

"Sentinel Prime Ellison, you're not going to believe this, but according to our men at the front gate, she left the post two hours ago."

 

"If you have surveillance tapes, I want to see them.  And close the base off, no one else leaves.  We have another one."  Jim swore.  Then seeing the look on Beanís face explained.  "Eighteen months ago, two unbonded GDP Guides were killed.  Both of them had no criminal records, but the kicker was that both were seen and their movements recorded on a surveillance camera after their deaths.  It was not made public.  The GDP didn't want to panic their cadets.  He or she was called the Carbon Killer.  It appears that the killer takes over the life of his or her victim.  He is also believed to be an emotional vampire."

 

Gross cut in, "The worst kind of rogue Guide, Sentinel."  He looked at Blair.  "Worse, almost, than a sexually corrupt Guide."

 

Blair felt Jim bristle under his hand, Blessed Protector emotions turning more aggressive.  He leaned into Jimís back, and then wrapped an arm around his waist from behind as he tried to soothe his Sentinel.

 

"Blair was a victim, Gross.  Donít forget that."

 

Gross could not keep contact with Jimís eyes; they seemed to burn right through him.  "The vampire empath is usually a very strong empath.  They feed on the emotions of other empaths and citizens."

 

Bean noticed the causal put down.  He had just dismissed them as second class.   //How the hell did all this happen?   When did it get that bad?//

 

"The vampire pushes the empath into overload, and empathic shock follows.  Since his victims are unbonded, there is no Sentinel for them to link with.  A bonded pair have a strong connection.  Usually, the Sentinel can coax the Guide back, but he is the only way to bring them back.  A chemically induced kickstart to the system is usually fatal--the Guide dies." 

 

There was a pause, and then Gross added, "I'll get the personnel reports on the cadets for you."

 

Bean, with a copís instinct, knew that it was already too late. He also noticed the way that Ellison had tucked his Guide closer to him, his hand resting around the younger man's waist as if frightened that someone or something was going to come down and pluck him away.

 

"We'll continue going over the crime scene.  You'll have your report later today, Gross."  Ellison made it final.  Every instinct was to take his Guide away from here, now, but he had a job to do, so he was going to do it.

 

~~~

 

The GDP van pulled up once it was clear of the camp, and a hand came out.  Then a bag of clothes were dropped out.  He had hidden behind his own identity for long enough, now he was the chameleon again.  He would show the ones who rejected him for Guide training that he was the strongest ever. 

 

Pity he didn't get a chance to take Sandburg.  He could feel the power coming off that one.  He needed his life force to make his plan work.  Then he would take his place by the side of James Ellison, as his Guide Prime.  For the moment, he would have to move on, but he would be back.

 

 

The story is to be continued

Part Two  takes place during the timeline of Marking of a Dark Guide.